Mayor Catherine Pugh, who has endured weeks of scandal surrounding the sales of “Healthy Holly” and a number of related—janky, equally bizarre, generally unreadable, and rather memeable—children’s books for hundreds of thousands of dollars is officially taking a leave of absence due to sickness.
The “indefinite” leave of absence begins tomorrow. City Council president Jack Young will be the acting mayor and City Council vice president Sharon Green Middleton will be acting City Council president.
Article XI, Section 5 of the Charter of Baltimore City has been cited as the reason for the leave: “In case of, and during, sickness, temporary disqualification or necessary absence of the Mayor, the President of the City Council shall be ex officio Mayor of the City.”
Robert A. Chrencik of UMMS himself was asked to take a leave of absence related to the “Healthy Holly” scandal (The Baltimore Brew has detailed how the UMMS system was privatized under Chrencik’s leadership).
Pugh was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital on March 25 for pneumonia and then held a March 27 press conference after she was released. At the press conference, Pugh referred to the dealings with UMMS as “an incredible mistake” and then also displayed prototypes for a “Healthy Holly” baby clothing line. Since then, details about the “Healthy Holly” books have only expanded the scope of the scandal. A Baltimore Sun story from today uncovered another $100,000-plus given to Pugh by Kaiser PermanenteCareFirst and BlueCross BlueShield for “Healthy Holly” books.
The news of Pugh’s leave of absence was first reported by the Baltimore Sun, who has been indefatigably reporting on this scandal.
“I am utterly heartbroken by the developments that have unfolded over the past several weeks. I pray that Mayor Pugh continues to recover from her illness,” Young said in a statement. “She has been advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health. At this time, with the Mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor.”
Even if Pugh’s health (cough cough) recovers, it’s hard to see her mayorship survive.
Councilperson Zeke Cohen has already called on the mayor to resign. “I wish Mayor Pugh a speedy recovery as she takes a leave of absence due to her illness,” Cohen’s statement read in part. “However, I believe she should fully resign from office. Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust. Baltimore deserves better.”
Councilperson Ryan Dorsey tweeted, “This Mayor has been an embarrassment to the city. Government operations have not worked under her lack of leadership and vision. I’m glad to see her step aside, and I look forward to her stepping down.”
“Healthy Holly” is the latest of numerous scandals surrounding the mayor.
An aide for Pugh’s campaign, Gary Brown plead guilty to making $18,000 in illegal donations to her 2016 mayoral campaign—Pugh called him a “good employee.” And leading up to the 2016 mayoral election, there were a number of questionable donations from Baltimoreans—some of whom said they didn’t even know they contributed to Pugh’s campaign.
Pugh’s nominee for Baltimore Police Department commissioner Joel Fitzgerald faced serious community and city council pushback, and then removed his name citing his son’s health issues. Fitzgerald was nominated after Pugh’s pick for commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, resigned due to serious tax problems which extended not only to failing to file taxes but lying about charitable donations, ownership of a home, and more (last week, De Sousa was sentenced to 10 months in prison; federal prosecutors did not mince words and called him “a tax cheat”).
Larger questions of mayoral incompetence have worried many of those inside City Hall, the Beat has learned. The mayor has a penchant for privately calling and chastising those who criticize her and appears allergic to accountability. During the Gun Trace Task Force trial, Pugh told reporters she had not been following the trial which involved drug dealing Baltimore police officers who lied on police reports and even planted BB guns because she had to “run a city.” After the trial revealed concentric circles of corruption (and named more than a dozen police officers implicated in the scandal), there were calls for a commission to investigate the Baltimore Police Department which Pugh opposed.
Around the time of current commissioner Michael Harrison’s nomination, many inside city hall quipped that Harrison was a shoo-in no matter what, if only because many feared who the mayor might pick if Harrison was not confirmed.
News of Pugh’s leave of absence had been darting around City Hall since this afternoon—the Beat and the Real News Network first heard about it around 3 p.m. and were able to confirm via multiple sources within City Hall though no one within the mayor’s office would officially confirm it.
The news of Pugh’s leave due to sickness broke a short time after Gov. Larry Hogan formally requested an investigation into the mayor and the University of Maryland Medical System. “These are deeply disturbing allegations.” Hogan said in a statement. “I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant continuing ties with the State and receives very substantial public funding.”
Additional reporting by Jaisal Noor.